Etiquetteer has been fascinated with Sylvia, Queen of the Headhunters, by Philip Eade, his biography of Sylvia Brett Brooke, who married into the Brooke family, “the last white Rajahs of Sarawak.” Sylvia’s behavior throughout her life comes in for its fair share of disapproval - Etiquetteer can’t say she was a Paragon of Perfect Propriety (indeed, Etiquetteer is just about to begin a chapter headed “To Hell with dignity”) - but she did receive the praise of one dear friend for her conduct at her 1911 wedding. J.M. Barrie, best known to history as the author of Peter Pan, wrote Sylvia charmingly afterward about her beautiful consideration of others: “. . . so nice to everyone, especially to servants and waiters. I think the latter such a test of a nice woman, and I watched, and no one could have come more sweetly through the ordeal.”*
Reading this led Etiquetteer to reflect on the Bride of Today, who is usually so super-conscious of the wedding day being HERS, as though only her wishes and convenience needed to be considered. So many brides believe all they have to do is receive, receive, receive (but not in a receiving line): receive congratulations, receive compliments, and especially receive gifts gifts gifts (but only from the registry that has been shamelessly advertised) and money. And that they don’t have to GIVE anything but orders: orders to give parties, orders to buy gifts, orders to buy ugly dresses, orders to lose weight, orders constantly to satisfy the Gaping Maw of Bridal Need.
Brides have a price to pay for all this, whether they like it or not, and it is the Gift of Themselves. Etiquetteer gets mighty tired of brides trying to wriggle out of their obligations to give back: by isolating themselves at “sweetheart tables” during the wedding banquet, by eliminating any receiving line** to avoid talking with wedding guests (many of whom have gone to considerable distance and expense to celebrate with her in person), and especially by adopting the fiction that Lovely Notes of Thanks are either unnecessary or able to be postponed until the first anniversary.
A wedding is a special occasion for everyone who participates, not just the Happy Couple, and consideration for the acknowledgement of all must be considered by brides. To Etiquetteer this means greeting each and every wedding guest personally (whether in a receiving line or by circulating among tables during the banquet, preferably both) and prompt and personal Lovely Notes to thank relatives, friends, and colleagues for their gifts (whether they were from the registry or not). Because you’ll go on having to know all these people long after your wedding is over (and perhaps your divorce, too.) Don’t make Etiquetteer come after you . . .
*Page 62, Sylvia, Queen of the Headhunters, by Philip Eade, 2014 (Picador)
** That said, people have forgotten that receiving lines are not places to have extended conversations. All you should say in a receiving line is “Congratulations! I’m so happy for you and you look lovely” and then give way to the next wedding guest. And lest anyone think Etiquetteer is simply a Mindless Slave to Tradition, Etiquetteer needs to emphasize how wonderful it is that the size of receiving lines has been dramatically reduced, from the Happy Couple, all four of their parents, and all the bridesmaids to just the Happy Couple.